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Dive Review of Sam's Tours/DW Motel/Sea Passion Resort in
Micronesia/Palau

Sam's Tours/DW Motel/Sea Passion Resort, Mar, 2013,

by Doug Swalen, CA, US ( 1 report). Report 6909.

No photos available at this time

Ratings and Overall Comments 1 (worst) - 5 (best):

Accommodations 3 stars Food 4 stars
Service and Attitude 3 stars Environmental Sensitivity 4 stars
Dive Operation 4 stars Shore Diving N/A
Snorkeling N/A
Value for $$ 4 stars
Beginners 4 stars
Advanced 5 stars
Comments I'd been to Palau twice before but I had unfinished business there having missed out on some of the best parts of some of the best dive spots the last two times for one reason or another.

A week after I booked the trip I found out about Typhoon Bopha which hit Palau in near miss fashion back in December. Reports of some damage had come out since but I was still going.

However, in this sport, timing is everything and I happened to land when Palau was at the early stages of a storm front that stretched clear back to the Marshals. This translated into 7 out of 8 days of partial to completely overcast skies, higher than normal winds, and more rain than I had seen there previously.

First the bad news. The eastern reefs of Palau got hammered by Bopha. Want to dive Short Drop Off? Trashed. Ngerchong Inside and Ngerchong Outside? Wrecked. Peleliu's Yellow Wall? Hammered. Peleliu Express and Peleliu Cut? Word is they got clobbered too. I never saw them first hand but based on what I heard they'll take years to recover.

Now the good news. Short Drop Off and Ngerchong are considered several cuts below Palau's best dive sites and Palau's Crown Jewels escaped relatively unscathed. The only reef where I saw some visible damage was at Ulong Channel which had the occasional uprooted hard coral face-planted on the reef.

Ulong was my reason for going. I said I had unfinished business in Palau and Ulong was at the top of my list. I was a lifetime 0-4 experiencing the roller coaster of running the channel with the currents up. But Ulong proved elusive at first. Not only had I flown into a six straight days of atypical Palau weather for this time of year, I'd also flown into the wrong tidal conditions for Ulong. I would have to wait for the conditions to come back around.

Between Bophas damage and Ulong being out of favor this resulted in a concentration of dive activity down around Ngemelis. All the boats flooded Ngemelis and the vicinity the first five days I was there. It's going to sound like blaspheme but by day 5 I was getting sick of Blue Corner which wed hit every day.

I might have felt differently if Blue Corner had been firing on all cylinders but it wasn't. Three times there was no current. Yes, Blue Corner even with no current is better than anything you'll find in places like Hawaii but after 5 days a kind of sameness started to creep in with the spot. The sharks were tiny compared to my previous trips to Palau. I think I saw one that approached five feet. Most were under three.

Most alarming was what has happened to some of the Napoleon Wrasse that hang out there. They've been desensitized to humans and their behavior altered because one of the dive operations has been feeding them eggs. I won't name the operator since I'm not 100% sure it is them. But the behavior of some of the Napoleons have changed since my last time diving there. Now on at least 4 of the 5 dives I did at Blue Corner a Napoleon would come up to individual divers and hover around their heads looking for a handout. This egg feeding needs to stop. It's messing with the fish and messing with the dives.

On the plus side was the presence of Dogtooth Tuna which was a new experience for me. I also spotted Yellowfin Tuna patrolling the Corner one day. I had seen neither the previous dives I'd done in Palau. But those were in late April/May and this time I came in February.

My luck at diving Ulong with currents is only rivaled by my luck at seeing Mantas at German Channel. Four attempts and not one Manta. But that streak ended on my lone dive there this trip. We swam to one cleaning station at 60 ft and nothing was going on. So we went down to another station at 100 ft and nothing doing there either. We headed back up to 60 feet and then we scored. A manta came in but didn't seem too interested in cleaning and left quickly. We then traversed along the reef and ran into another. It buzzed us a few times and left. We were nearing the end of our dive when I spotted a school of Jacks lazily making their way to nowhere in particular. I was out in front and wound up in the middle of the school. As I was shooting video, suddenly the Jacks freaked out and darted one direction, reversed course, and darted another direction. I finally saw what the commotion was. The Jacks were being attacked by a pair of Gray Reef sharks...and I was in the middle of the dinner plate. Fortunately the attack ended just about as quickly as it started.

By day 6 the tidal conditions changed and Ulong and the areas around it were open for business. But we decided to dive Ulong second and by then it went flat. I was now 0-5 at riding the currents at Ulong and bordering on suicidal.

But I couldn't complain too much about it because of the first dive. It was Sandbar Paradise; a spot just a stone's throw south east of the mouth of Ulong Channel. It's not dived too often. I had not dived it before. The viz was about 40-50 feet...about the same as Ulong and German Channel. We weren't in the water more than a few minutes when the DM started gesturing wildly at us to get down. The reason for his excitement became self-evident as we saw a Manta in the mist orbiting a reef outcropping. It was a cleaning station. It turned out that the DM had never seen a Manta at this cleaning station before. I talked to another DM later and she said she'd never seen one there either. Apparently, we were witnesses to a rare event.

The Manta hung out there for ten minutes just orbiting the cleaning station while we just lay on the sea floor watching it. It was there so long I started checking out the reef behind me. The group was starting to get going when suddenly a second Manta came swooping in. It was a female. The male suddenly snapped to attention and we were getting buzzed by both.

Now, I have had my fair share of Manta buzz cuts doing the Manta night dive in Kona. But those dives were at night and I was always on the bottom. This time I was 15 ft off the sea floor so I not only got to see the Mantas swim above me but below me as well. It's one thing to see Mantas in a controlled environment like an orchestrated night dive in Kona. It's another thing to have them swim right by you just because they felt like it. It was definitely one of the highlights of my trip.

The last day the weather finally turned after six days of meh. Sun and clouds...the kind of weather I'm used to seeing in Palau. I took that as a good omen for the days' dives.

I talked the DM, who was very accommodating, into a return trip to Ulong. This time the currents were up and we were on it. We hooked in at the mouth for a few minutes but the viz was pretty bad and the sharks were mostly elsewhere save for a junior Gray that was maybe 4 ft. We unhooked and got on the Ulong roller coaster.

Now I understand why this dive ranks so high on the "Best Of" lists. What a rush. The currents kept on moving. At one point we came upon a coral mound about 30 feet long. I got pushed down one way and everyone else got taken down the other side. Uh oh. The viz was really bad now...maybe 40 feet at most. I started kicking hard to get over but I couldn't see where to kick to. After about a minute of being on my own and seriously considering unwrapping my safety sausage and aborting the dive, I spotted the faint sign of air bubbles in the muck and rejoined the group. A group of three Juvenille African Pompano cruised right in front of me. Id never seen Pompano before. This ride just wouldn't end. I started filming when I unhooked. After 10 minutes of continuous filming, I stopped. We kept on going for another 5 to 10 minutes after that. When we got picked up we had drifted out of the channel and were now in about 6 ft of water and had to guard against standing on the corals. Everyone was completely psyched out.

After six dive days, only once had we had lunch on land. I guess I should mention that the old rest spot in Ngemelis where people would go after diving Blue Corner, German Channel, New Drop Off, etc...is now off limits. The Chief of Palau owns that spot and I guess he deemed that divers were persona non-grata. So instead of that we (and everyone else) did boat tie ups on the water. It's just not the same eating lunch on the boat. But since we were out at Ulong and the sun was out we really wanted to eat lunch on Ulong Island. But first we decided to dive Siaes Corner since it was nearby. This would be a first for me.

I could tell when we got down to the lower corner at 70 feet, which you can't always do if the currents are really going in a particular direction, that this spot is not dived as much. Unlike the scarred reef of Blue Corner where you don't see a lot of corals on the corner (probably taken out by all the divers over the years) the corals were thriving all over the corner at Siaes, which made it a little trickier to find spots to hook into. Only a handful of Grays out; the reported Shark mass of the previous day had whittled itself down. We unhooked from the Corner and went back along the wall. The big find was a pair of leaf fish only 6 in apart.

This was a 3 tank day and the 3rd dive was a wreck; the Helmet. There are depth charges spilling out the side of the ship. Palau is now working to remove unexploded ordinance from undersea wrecks. A couple of years ago they blew up a Zero that lay in the lagoon next to the Sea Passion Resort because it had a couple of unexploded bombs laying next to it. This was unfortunate for me because I booked my last night at the Sea Passion specifically to snorkel that plane. Now Its gone.

The Helmet is next up to be "cleaned". When we dived the wreck we could see the beginnings of a grid pattern being laid out to survey the area for unexploded ordinance. The question is how will they deal with this: will they remove the depth charges by hand or will they do what they did to the Zero and blow them up? If the latter I shudder to think of what that explosion will do to the Helmet. The highlight this day was an crocodile fish I found laying on the deck.

I spent most of my time at the DW Motel which is what it is. A cheap place to stay at. If you come in with expectations for even the most minor creature comforts, you will be either A) disappointed or B) checking out early...which a few people did while I was there. I just wanted a room to sleep in and keep my bags and came with air conditioning. I got that and just that. No TV, except downstairs. The internet in Palau sucks and I knew that going in. The bed, and I use that term figuratively, was the hardest thing I ever slept on. More than one morning I would wake up to sore legs. I had previously stayed in 2009 and 2010 at Caroline's Resort, The Rose Garden, and The Sea Passion and compared to them the DW is a steal of a deal if all you want is a very hard bed and shower.

I have now dived Palau three times and yet I still haven't dived all the spots I want to. Shark City, Peleliu Cut, Peleliu Express, and Yellow Wall are four spots I still want to experience. Then there's the north. Palau's well kept secret is the diving in the northern end of Babeldaob. Few dive operations in Koror go there. With Blue Corner, et al in the South and those spots being much closer it's easy to see why. But I've heard a lot of good things about the North.
But I think it will be quite a while before I come back again. The airfare is a major disincentive now. At $1100 it was tolerable. At >$2000...if I'm going to spend that kind of money on a flight it's going to be someplace I haven't been already. I read in the paper that the Palauan President wants to increase tourism and bring in high rollers. His solution? Try to get someone to build a five star hotel and a golf course. A golf course in 80% humidity and 85+ degrees rains-a-lot Palau? Good luck with that. I think if he wants to bring in more people he needs to talk to the airlines, particularly United, about their now extortion level airfare.
Websites Sam's Tours   

Reporter and Travel

Dive Experience 101-250 dives
Where else diving Yap, Palau, Maldives, Tonga, Monterey, Pt. Lobos, Cabo San Lucas, Kauai, Maui, Kona
Closest Airport Getting There

Dive Conditions

Weather sunny, windy, rainy, cloudy, dry Seas calm, choppy, currents, no currents
Water Temp 75-85°F / 24-29°C Wetsuit Thickness 2
Water Visibility 40-175 Ft/ 12-53 M

Dive Policy

Dive own profile yes
Enforced diving restrictions We had recommended depths but no hard rules. My computer died mid trip so I stuck with the Instructor after that since I was on Nitrox.
Liveaboard? no Nitrox Available? yes

What I Saw

Sharks Lots Mantas 1 or 2
Dolphins None Whale Sharks None
Turtles > 2 Whales None
Corals 4 stars Tropical Fish 4 stars
Small Critters 3 stars Large Fish N/A
Large Pelagics N/A

Underwater Photography 1 (worst) - 5 (best):

Subject Matter 4 stars Boat Facilities 4 stars
Overall rating for UWP's 4 stars Shore Facilities 4 stars
UW Photo Comments I'm not a hard core UWP. I have a tiny shell and a strobe, not a giant rig that takes five to ten minutes to set up prior to diving. Sam's had rinse bins on the boats and rinse tanks at the shop. That's all I was looking for and needed.
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Subscriber's Comments

By Mark Shandurin Phuket, TH at May 09, 2013 02:45 EST  
Thanks for a great report Doug - really good read but sorry to learn you didn't get to visit some sites still on your list. I dived Palau in Dec 2012 shortly after Bopha and would agree that Peleliu Express was damaged but the Cut was very good IMHO, we didn;t go to Short drop off or Ngerong as we learned of the damage beforehand. I dived Shark City - really enjoyed that one a good long drift with eagle rays & bumpheds. But when i went we had a lack of current so not too hectic dives and maybe not what i was expecting - but still plenty of sharks and big schools of fish. we hit the motherload in German Channel with a 60 minute dive with 8 mantas going bananas in front of us (and we were the only boat there) lucky us - guess we got the impression its like that all of the time. If you plan to visit Palau again have a look at the moon phase and try to plan your trip to hit the full or new moon for more currents and chance to see the fish spawning activity. Best Wishes
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